Michael Horton, host of the radio program The White Horse Inn, once wrote: “No church program, evangelistic meeting, or small group can do what honest, spontaneous friendships do” (Made in America, p. 130). He was talking about Christ’s Church giving needed community in the midst of our individualistic society. Horton also said: “In church, at school, at work, in hospitals, in communities, and in prisons, Christians must be recognized as people who treat everybody with the dignity that being created in God’s image deserves. We have to be more interested in people than in numbers” (p. 129-130). In other words, Christians need to be their brother’s keeper. And trusting God’s care and keeping turns you into your brother’s keeper, because, after all, Jesus is the brother’s keeper for you.
Today Jesus uses a most familiar story to show us the fruit of His forgiveness and life for sinners. A law-man wants to test Jesus. This law-man was the upstanding, religious sort. He knew his Bible. He went to church every Sabbath. And still he dares ask, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The problem is: you don’t do anything for an inheritance; an inheritance is an undeserved gift. But Jesus plays along to help the man. “What does the Law say?” Answer: “Love God and love your neighbor.” So, Jesus says: “That’s the right answer. Now do it. Practice this love, and you will live. Don’t worry about super-religious works like church programs or evangelistic meetings or small groups. Simply love God and love your neighbor, and you have life.”
But the law-man tried to wiggle out from under the Law. It sounds like something we might do! “Ah, but who is my neighbor?” He wanted to protect himself and let himself off the hook. If he could choose his neighbor, then perhaps he could handle the command to love his neighbor. If he could carefully select his own neighbor, then he could surely keep his reputation for being good, upstanding, and religious.
So Jesus tells a story. “A man was going down from
So who would be this brother’s keeper? Who would help this neighbor in need? Who would love his neighbor as himself? Just by chance, a priest walked by. He saw the beaten, bloody man, but did nothing. He was called to lead the temple liturgy. However, he was not rushing to the temple; most likely he was going home after his time of serving in the liturgy. Why didn’t he help? Who knows? The point is: he just didn’t. He refused to be his brother’s keeper.
Next came a Levite. He was not a priest but he probably assisted the priest in the liturgy. He also ignored the dying man, the neighbor in need. The law-man before Jesus, and the priest and the Levite in the story—they all had heard God’s Word, but it didn’t get from the ear to the heart and from the heart to the life. All of these men were just as good and religious as you are. But being good and religious does not guarantee that you’ll be your brother’s keeper.
You see, when Jesus enlivens people by His grace and mercy, He makes people like the Samaritan. He is gentle, compassionate and merciful. The Samaritan is not worried about himself or his reputation. He simply serves as his brother’s keeper. He did not have to ask, “Who is my neighbor?” He saw his neighbor right in front of him. The Samaritan figured out how to be a neighbor to the dying man. And notice what he did. He did the dirty, little things that needed to be done. He bandaged the wounds. He poured on the healing salve of oil and the cleansing wine. He put the man on his own means of transportation. He provided a bed for him and kept vigil with him through the night. Then when he absolutely had to leave, the Samaritan arranged for the innkeeper to give the man the best care possible, and he would pay the whole bill later. These are the things you do when you are your brother’s keeper.
Notice how Jesus commends these simple, everyday, dirty little deeds. They’re not flashy good works. They don’t get newspaper headlines. They don’t need board or committee or government approval. They just happen. They happen by God’s grace and mercy. They happen when you are more like the Samaritan and less like the priest or the Levite. You see, if your brand of holiness is the same as that of the priest and the Levite, you won’t help your neighbor. You’ll worry about your time, your reputation, about getting your hands messy or your clothes dirty. You’ll worry about not having enough money left after you give to your church and other charitable causes. You’ll let others hurt while you ask, “What special good works shall I do to inherit life?” While your neighbor is right in front of you—at home, at work, at the grocery store, in the congregation—you’ll be asking, “Who really qualifies as my neighbor?”
It’s easy to say, “I love God” or “I love Jesus.” But it’s most difficult to show it by loving the neighbors He gives you. If you want to know who truly loves God, then look for things like this: Look to see how children honor their parents. Look for parents who take care of their children and spend time with them, learning Bible stories together, learning the Catechism together, doing homework or even playing games together with the TV turned off. Look for spouses who respect and serve each other. Look for workers who cooperate with their supervisors, and supervisors who take care of their workers. Look for pastors who admonish and comfort God’s people only with the mercies of God in Jesus Christ. Look for teachers who give of their time and energy to help our children become life-long learners. Look for congregations who support the work of the Gospel through their prayers and their offerings.
Each of you, in your own callings in life, shows by your deeds just how you love God. And you do so simply by being your brother’s keeper, by being the Samaritan to your neighbor. And you don’t have to search for your neighbor. You’ll find your neighbor at home, at church, at work, at the store, across the street, and so on. Here’s what God says, “If you want to love and serve Me, then love and serve your neighbor.”
Now you’re probably realizing how little you really do love God or your neighbor. When you try, your efforts are never quite good enough. Let the story of the Samaritan comfort you. Jesus is your Good Samaritan. Yes, you are the beaten, bloody man on the road. Your love for God falters. Your love for your neighbor falls flat on its face. Jesus is your Samaritan, your brother’s keeper. He comes to take care of you. And notice what He does, because He will lead you to love God and neighbor.
Jesus comes to you on the road and has compassion on you. Like the Samaritan, Jesus was rejected by the religious community. But He was not worried about His own reputation or life. Your Lord had the compassion that took Him to the cross for you. There He paid the ultimate price for your healing. But it wasn’t the price of two silver coins; it was the price of His very own precious blood, His innocent suffering and death. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 Jn. 4:10).
Yes, Jesus comes to you on the road to be neighbor to you. He binds up your wounds of lovelessness with His words of forgiveness and His life of total love. He pours on you the oil of Baptismal healing. He gives you the wine that is His Blood in the Eucharist. Jesus pours His Body and His Blood into you to strengthen you in love toward God and in fervent love toward your neighbor. Jesus picks you up off the road of your lovelessness and carries you in His grace and mercy. He brings you into the inn of His Church, where He keeps vigil with you, where He grants you healing for all of your days. Now there’s true love for you! There’s a brother’s keeper for you!So, if you are looking for something to do, here it is. Love your neighbor as Christ has loved you and given Himself for you. You’ll have plenty to do. You won’t have to worry about serving the Lord in flashy, religious-looking ways. And when you keep falling short of being a good neighbor, when you keep stumbling in being your brother’s keeper, keep running back to this inn called the Church. Here you receive the healing that comes from Christ’s death and resurrection. Here you receive forgiveness, life, and salvation. Here you receive the love of God so that you can turn and love your neighbor. Here you are restored to God’s image so that you can love your neighbor who also has the dignity of being made in God’s image. Amen.